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Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5463)
Written on  :  Jul 11, 2005
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars
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Summary

Another great Larry Holland game

The Good

Prior to Pearl Harbor, U.S. involvement in World War II was limited to American pilots allowed to fly with the RAF. One such pilot was James Chase, Secret Weapons Over Normandy’s main character. Impressing his English superiors, Chase is selected for the Battlehawks, an elite squadron given access to the newest aircraft and sent on the most important and dangerous missions. Engaging German and Japanese squadrons, the Battlehawks see action in both the European and Pacific Theaters.

While the Battlehawks are the best the Allies have to offer, the Axis have the sinister Nemesis group headed by the German Ace Krieger. Flying planes with innovations previously unthought-of, Nemesis pilots are fierce, merciless opponents. While always a step behind, Chase and company have no choice but to meet Nemesis head-on and frustrate their efforts.

Secret Weapons Over Normandy is an arcade presentation of aviation combat, not a flight simulator. In this way, it resembles the Rogue Squadron series of games more than the X-wing franchise. However, it is a much better game than any of the three entries currently in that series, especially since Chase never has to tie up an AT-AT.

Fortunately for the gamer, Chase sees more action than a historically accurate pilot would have. Within the course of the game, Chase skirmishes off Dover, frustrates Rommel in North Africa, supports ground defenses in Russia, all in addition to Midway and Normandy. While most missions take place in the cockpit, one starts in an AA turret on a Destroyer and another in the ball turret of a B-17 bomber.

After selecting a plane for a mission (eventually Chase has over twenty to pick from), Chase chooses a secondary weapon, in addition to the primary machine gun. Secondary weapons include torpedos and cannons, eventually leading up to guided rockets late in the game. Playing from a third-person perspective, the camera follows Chase’s aircraft with options to survey the area. While he is flying, he can target an enemy and the camera will turn to show its location. He can also switch to a bombing view when engaging land and sea forces.

Missions have a lot of variation, as Chase engages land, air, and sea forces. Trains must be derailed, rockets shot down, POW camps raided, and tank columns bombed. One hair-raising level has Chase escorting Dr. Niels Bohr as he flees the Nazis. In this multistage mission, Chase must take out tanks targeting Bohr’s truck, engage submarines attacking Bohr’s boat, clear an airfield of AA guns so Allied forces can land, and more.

Every mission has primary objectives, obvious secondary objectives, and secret bonus objectives that present themselves to observant aviators. Completing these objectives earn aircraft upgrades, so the next time Chase is in the hanger he can have a plane’s structure, engine, or armaments improved. Even an introductory Hurricane can be turned into a fierce flying machine. Most missions have an Allied Airfield where Chase can repair and reload. This is easily accomplished by either manually landing the plane on a runway or lowering the landing gear and hitting a floating hotspot above the field.

Story missions are usually supported with bonus missions putting Chase in competition with other pilots. Chase might have to race along the fjords competing to reach a dam while engaging enemy forces or he might have to outscore the lovely Lilia as they disrupt a German assault. Once a mission has been completed, it can be replayed either for fun or to improve Chase’s score. Upgrades prove invaluable as the Axis makes more technological breakthroughs and Chase earns promotions in rank by nailing all the objectives.

With tight controls and a great camera, Secret Weapons Over Normandy feels right, but it looks and sounds right, too. Models are based on real aircraft with sound provided from onsite visits to the Air Museum Planes of Fame. The game’s wonderful score (Michael Giacchino leading the Northwest Sinfonia) sounds like something from a Hollywood production. Cinematics feel pulled from A&E, using real WWII footage and narrated by documentary narrator Will Lyman.

Completing missions unlocks film clips showing behind the scenes production of Secret Weapons Over Normandy, including background on the aircraft provided by pilots from the Air Museum and the musical scoring process. Secret Weapons Over Normandy also has a two-player competitive mode and an Instant Action single player dogfight mode.

The Bad

Being arcade rather than simulator, Secret Weapons Over Normandy has a few features which pull you out of the moment. Fuel is never a worry regardless of how long, hard, or fast you fly. Planes don’t fly differently depending on their level of damage. An enemy plane can be a ball of fire and still fly like it was brand new as long as it has just a bit of life left. If your plane is near its end, you can fly like mad to the nearest Allied Airfield and get a new one. There’s no penalty for burning through any number of planes, except for the damage being done to your side while you are out of action.

Other odd touches can’t be explained by Secret Weapons Over Normandy’s nature. Crashing into an enemy plane doesn’t do anything to you or them. Perhaps this explains why the enemy AI doesn’t make any attempt to avoid head-on collisions. Speaking of crashing, you can die by crashing into the ground or sea, ground units or sea units, and buildings, but not trees.

In terms of AI, whenever I was able to command my wingmen they were more agreeable than effective and the enemy AI was pretty easy to shake. This, plus the ability to slow down or speed up time, made Secret Weapons Over Normandy a bit too easy. Others, however, say it’s a bit too hard. Secret Weapons Over Normandy has no difficulty setting so it really depends on the player.

The Bottom Line

Ever since HellCat Ace for the Commodore 64 I’ve had an affinity for flight games, but being underwhelmed by the Rogue Squadron franchise I came to Secret Weapons Over Normandy with low expectations. Was I wrong. Secret Weapons Over Normandy is a great game for those looking for aviation combat without nitpicky levels of realism. This game has so many great moments, it’s hard just to name a few: lighting up an enemy plane until it blows apart, flying through an enemy hanger taking out the planes within, decimating tank column with a one-ton bomb. I highly recommend this game, not only for its gameplay, but also for its insightful extras.